01 July 2015

My “Dear John” Letter to a Ghost

W.H. Auden captures my predicament:

        Go, go, go said the bird: human kind
        Cannot bear very much reality.
        Time past and time future
        What might have been 

               and what has been.
        Point to one end, which 
               is always present

 What I ask via FaceBook: “Are you the John Doe (not his real name) who worked one summer at Camp Reveal in Evansville, Indiana? I’m chasing ghosts and wonder if you are that John Doe.”

    What I actually mean: OMG, after all these years of wondering whatever happened to you and if you did indeed go to Mongolia as a missionary and if you came out as a gay man and whatever did you do with all that talent and imagination and spiritual fervor…

    …and having looked for you online after there was an online, and online in the pre-Facebook era and not having located you, today I log onto Facebook and there you might be, with that gorgeous gentle smile, your head cocked slightly to the side, and in your pictures file additional mugshots of you in a knit beret making faces and acting silly…

    …back with a rush come my feelings for you or the memories of my feelings for you, back in the day when I was sure because I was a committed Christian that what I was feeling for you was a knitting of spirit brought on by the Holy Ghost and a sense of Christian brotherhood…

    …and oh, how I wanted to be with you every free moment of the day and those not-so-free moments, too, all that summer long…

    …and how jealous I was of our fellow camp counselor, he of the maize-colored curly locks with whom you held private Bible studies and prayed early morning prayers and whose place I wanted to take and whose heart I wanted to run through with a stake to make it happen…

    ...and are you the selfsame John Doe who taught me about unrequited love and longing, long long after the fact?

    (Insert long radio silence here.)

    He never answers my que(e)ry. Perhaps for the best. I peruse his “likes” and see the National Rifle Association is the most liberal of the organizations and causes he supports. Not much chance of us re-connecting even if he is John Doe of blessed memory.

    But in some part of my psyche I am still 18 years old and he is 21. I am gangly, nerdy, scatter-brained; he is earnest, creative, focused. I am smitten; he is oblivious. We work together the entire summer. When the camp closes, I ask John D. for a ride home. To his home. It means my folks can pick me up after a drive of one hour instead of five. It also means I’ll have to stay at his house overnight.

    Not that I read anything into this. I am so highly closeted as to be clueless about my sexual orientation. Really. All innocence, I gush to him during the long drive to his house.

    That evening we walk a rolling country lane. John leads me across a bean field and through rows of head-high corn.

    "I used to run down these rows pretending I was an Indian and the cowboys were after me,” he says.

    "When you were a kid?"

    He laughs. "Last summer. We only moved here a year ago."

    He is this free—free to be himself, express himself, and talk about it without shame. I burn with adoration and jealousy. I want him. I want to be with him, be him.

    That night we sleep in separate rooms.

    My parents pick me up after breakfast. John hugs me good bye.

    Not for years will I understand the ache in my heart, what it means, why it remains, why the memory of him brings sorrowful joy. I loved him more than I knew.

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Illustration is modified. Original from Punch, 24 July 1841